Author's Note: I don't have a way to write in Cyrillic, so I'll use italics to denote when Russian is spoken. Those italics will be within quotes, while direct thoughts will be in italics but not inside quotes.
Audio copy: You can listen to this story on my podcast: There Are Three of Me. It is read in Ep63 S4E10. You can find There Are Three of Me on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and .
Marvel Cinematic Universe
By Gabrielle Lawson
Pain pushed its way past his unconscious mind. It drowned out his other senses until he couldn't ignore it. His eyes opened and his lungs cried out for breath. There was an odd, rattling sound and he wearily turned his eyes to find the threat. His head wouldn't turn right and everything hurt so much he didn't want to move.
He couldn't keep his eyes open. The ragged, rattling sound remained. The incredible pain remained. He couldn't feel his arms or legs or torso, just that agony. He couldn't think through it or he might have realized that rattling sound was his breath. He might have wondered how he'd survived at all.
When he opened his eyes again, he saw a mountain rising higher than he could focus on. His eyes closed again until his ears registered new sounds. Crunching sounds, one after another. He opened his eyes again. A face above him. He didn't recognize the face. He managed one thought before it all went black again: Not Steve.
The pain flared and it stopped that ragged sound. His eyes opened but he didn't see the mountain or the sky. He saw a line of red in the snow where his arm should have been. The ragged sound began again. His eyelids dropped. The pain remained.
When his eyes opened again, he felt soft and fuzzy and dizzy. The pain had backed off a little, but not enough to let his brain form more than a few words.
"Sergeant Barnes." An accented voice. A familiar voice. Not Steve. Not Steve. Steve!
There was a taste on his tongue. His eyelids were too heavy. The fuzziness won over, pushed down his few thoughts, stifled his panic. He gave in.
A loud buzzing, high-pitched whirring, and a sliver of a separate pain high on his left arm cleared away the fuzz. He opened his eyes again. A small circle was embedded in his arm. Voices around him rose in intensity and the dizziness increased again, closing his eyes.
When the fuzzy dizziness lifted, a bright light assaulted his eyelids. He heard voices, words he didn't understand. He was afraid but he couldn't manage enough thought to do anything about it. His shoulder felt sore. His eyelids were heavy but not as much as before. He opened them and looked toward his shoulder. Gleaming, bright metal like the chrome on a car's bumper back home or silver like a bright suit of armor. Instinctively, he lifted his hands and the metal lifted, revealing fingers that moved like the fingers of his other hand.
What have you done to me? he asked, but his mouth wouldn't make the words and his breath wouldn't push them out.
"You are to be the new Fist of Hydra." That voice again.
He started to hyperventilate, his breath coming faster and faster. A man in a gray coat leaned in on his left side. He wanted to fight, to get free, to run away. The metal hand reached for the gray-coated man and he wanted to kill him. The fingers squeezed. The man choked. The voices started yelling. Sleep slammed into him so fast he couldn't even register the taste on his tongue. His eyes closed; the metal hand fell.
Over the coming days, he went in and out of consciousness. When he woke, he hurt so much he didn't want to wake up. But he could think when he was awake. He couldn't move. He saw tubes in his arm-the real one-felt one in his nose, in his throat. He felt a tube somewhere else but didn't want to think about that.
The tubes he could see led to bags on poles. Sometimes a man in a gray coat would come in and take some blood from his veins or push something else into them. Sometimes he came in. Most of the time he spoke German, and the words washed over him with no meaning except threat.
Each time he woke, he could think better, see farther. The room he was in was simple. Dark walls, cabinets along one side. One door, no windows. He knew now he was in big trouble. He was Zola. He was back in Zola's hands. He remembered what Zola had done before. He didn't understand what he had done before.
"Ah, you're awake."
Bucky stared at him. He couldn't move. Couldn't speak.
"It seems our previous work allowed your survival. I'm so glad we can now continue."
Steve! he screamed in his mind.
He was in a different room now. No cabinets. No bed. Most of the tubes were gone. The feeding tube remained. If he tried to pull it out, he'd be shocked. They had something like cattle prods but they glowed with blue. The shock they delivered brought back all the pain, flared in his eyelids and caused him to scream.
He was cold. No clothes, just bandages. And a chain tight on his ankle. Sometimes he woke up because his foot would be all pins and needles. He'd have to adjust his leg to get circulation again.
There was a bucket to relieve himself. Nothing to help him escape even if he could physically do more than crawl. The metal arm was so strange. It moved like it was his own arm, but he could hear the gears whirring inside as he made a fist or released it.
He counted seven days since he was mostly conscious. Zola visited at least once each day-and then he didn't. Bucky was glad he was gone but every time the door opened, he prayed it would be Steve, charging in to get him out. He'd done it before. Bucky knew, at this point, he couldn't get himself out. Steve was his only hope. He would come.
A month went by, if he hadn't lost count. He could sit now. He could stand for a short time. He still had no clothes, and sometimes they shocked him for no reason at all. But no Zola. And no Steve.
They showed him a newspaper, a list of dead soldiers. Sgt. James B. Barnes was the seventh name on the list. He tried to tell himself that it was fake, but the memory of the breaking railing would slam into him. Steve reaching, calling out, the wind that whipped by as he fell, the slam into the rock that had sent agony through his arm. Why would anyone think he wasn't dead?
Then the grief washed over him. His parents were gone. His sister was in Indiana. Did she see that list? Did she think her brother was dead? Did she get a visit from men in suits? Did she get his footlocker?
Still he hoped Steve would know. Steve would remember where he rescued him before. Maybe he'd guess that he might survive. Somehow. It was all he had.
Two months in and the bandages were gone. The prods came often. And they started in on his mind. "Your allies have lost the war. America surrendered. We asked if they wanted you back. They said no."
Over and over, the words changed but the message was the same. They showed him a newspaper with a photo of FDR signing the armistice. Bucky told them they were lying, the photo was fake. Then the shock would drop him, spasming to the floor.
Then they showed him a letter. The envelope was addressed to Steve Rogers and had the right address. The nameless goon read it in his heavy accent:
"Dear Mr. Rogers,"
We are in possession of your friend and comrade, James Buchanan Barnes. He was injured badly from the fall from the train but we have helped him to recover. Now that the war has concluded, we would like to make arrangements to repatriate him. Please reply as soon as possible that we may make appropriate arrangements to send him home."
He put the letter into the addressed envelope and licked the edge of the flap to seal it.
"It should take some time to reach New York." He dropped a green crayon onto the floor. "You may count the days."
He knew it was night because his lights would be turned off. The room, without windows would become very dark, so dark he had to touch his eyelids to feel if they were closed. In the morning, the bright lights would wake him. He used the crayon to make a mark on the wall. Just a dot.
The next time the lights came on, he made a slightly longer mark beside the dot. Day four, he finished the first letter: J. By the time he'd finished his first name, the man returned to say the letter would surely have arrived by now. They had only to await the return letter. Bucky noted eighteen days, his nickname. He waited fifteen more, his last. The reply was in.
They let him open the envelope. It felt strange to use the metal arm. He looked at the writing on the envelope. It looked like Steve's, he supposed. He hadn't actually seen his writing since he became Captain America. The signature, though.… Still, it could be faked. And yet, he hoped even though he suspected that was a trap. He tore open the envelope, pulled out the one slip of paper.
He just stared at it. It was fake. It had to be fake. Please let it be fake!
"May I see?" the man asked. He snapped up the paper. "Oh dear. Not what you hoped." He walked to the door and knocked once. The door opened, allowing four men with prods and gray lab coats.
The shock lasted so long he almost passed out. He was disappointed he hadn't. The feeding tube was pulled violently from his stomach through his nose. Bucky gagged. They shocked him again. The chain was removed. Another shock, then they dragged him from the room. He had to crane his neck to see his marks, the Morse Code of his name.
My name is James Bucky Barnes. My name is James Bucky Barnes.
He didn't know real day or night anymore. 'Night' didn't last long enough. Still no clothes. But no chain, no feeding tube. At least he hadn't had to taste what was in the tube. The slop they fed him now was awful, and there wasn't enough of it to keep him from being hungry. He got a paper cup filled with water now and then. His mouth was dry and he stayed thirsty.
When the lights went down, the god-awful noise kicked in, like scratches on a chalkboard piped though a loudspeaker directly above his head. The metal hand didn't cover his left ear as well as the normal one on his right. When the lights were on, they were impossibly bright. It stung his yes. The metal arm did block a lot more of it than his normal arm. So if he managed to sleep, it was not when the lights were off.
But they didn't want him to sleep. It wasn't just the prods anymore. It was fists and boots and batons.
He didn't have a crayon anymore. He lost count even if the lights actually meant days. He kept a mantra in his head: I'm James Bucky Barnes. I'm James Bucky Barnes.
Given enough days and nights without sleep, he was back to crawling. He was exhausted and weak and bruised. He couldn't stand. Some days later, he couldn't even crawl and his internal mantra mumbled past his lips.
They started requiring him to ask for his food. In Russian. They beat him when he got it wrong and he went hungry then. First, it was just the word for "food." But when he began to routinely say it correctly, they required a sentence: "Please bring my meal."
They gave him clothes. Well, a long, short-sleeve shirt that covered his knees. They ordered him about in Russian. They made him scrub his room. Any smudge left on the floor was punished.
He learned to stand where he was told, to go where they told him to go. They gave him a new name; it sounded like "active." Over time, he learned that name and learned to pronounce the Russian words he was to use. Then Russian words joined the English ones in his mind. His thoughts sometimes blended from one to the other.
One day, his handler, the nameless man who'd shown him the letter, was so proud of him, that he allowed him to go outside. Not just outside his room, but down the hall, out another door, up some steps, then outside. He stopped just outside the door. The grass was visible on the ground under brown leaves, but the trees he could see had no leaves or were coniferous. He felt cold and there were little snowflakes falling. He held out his arms to catch them. The flakes melted quickly on his real hand. They stayed on the metal one. The 'muscles' of that one were so much bigger than his thin, weak arm. He put the clues together. It was the start of winter. It had been winter when he fell.
He dropped to his knees. Tears welled up in his eyes and dripped down his cheeks. His handler spoke and he understood what he'd been asked: "Why do you weep, Asset?"
And he answered. "It's been a year and he hasn't come."
"Steve? He cannot come. Steve Rodgers is dead. And it's been two."
His stomach dropped at that revelation, but the pressure on his arm made him stand quickly before the handler would hit him. He wobbled and the handler steadied him. "You should be proud," the man said. "You are ready for the next stage."
He walked back inside. My name is... My name...
©2021 Gabrielle Lawson